Jun
22
2021
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Memory.ai, the startup behind time-tracking app Timely, raises $14M to build more AI-based productivity apps

Time is your most valuable asset — as the saying goes — and today a startup called Memory.ai, which is building AI-based productivity tools to help you with your own time management, is announcing some funding to double down on its ambitions: It wants not only to help manage your time, but to, essentially, provide ways to use it better in the future.

The startup, based out of Oslo, Norway, initially made its name with an app called Timely, a tool for people to track time spent doing different tasks. Aimed not just at people who are quantified self geeks, but those who need to track time for practical reasons, such as consultants or others who work on the concept of billable hours. Timely has racked up 500,000 users since 2014, including more than 5,000 paying businesses in 160 countries.

Now, Memory.ai has raised $14 million as it gears up to launch its next apps, Dewo (pronounced “De-Voh”), an app that is meant to help people do more “deep work” by learning about what they are working on and filtering out distractions to focus better; and Glue, described as a knowledge hub to help in the creative process. Both are due to be released later in the year.

The funding is being led by local investors Melesio and Sanden, with participation from Investinor, Concentric and SNÖ Ventures, who backed Memory.ai previously.

“Productivity apps” has always been something of a nebulous category in the world of connected work. They can variously cover any kind of collaboration management software ranging from Asana and Jira through to Slack and Notion; or software that makes doing an existing work task more efficient than you did it before (e.g. Microsoft has described all of what goes into Microsoft 365 — Excel, Word, PowerPoint, etc. — as “productivity apps”); or, yes, apps like those from Memory.ai that aim to improve your concentration or time management.

These days, however, it feels like the worlds of AI and advances in mobile computing are increasingly coming together to evolve that concept once again.

If the first wave of smartphone communications and the apps that are run on smartphone devices — social, gaming, productivity, media, information, etc. — have led to us getting pinged by a huge amount of data from lots of different places, all of the time, then could it be that the second wave is quite possibly going to usher in a newer wave of tools to handle all that better, built on the premise that not everything is of equal importance? No-mo FOMO? We’ll see.

In any case, some bigger platform players also helping to push the agenda of what productivity means in this day and age.

For example, in Apple’s recent preview of iOS 15 (due to come out later this year) the company gave a supercharge to its existing “do not disturb” feature on its phones, where it showed off a new Focus mode, letting users customize how and when they want to receive notifications from which apps, and even which apps they want to have displayed, all organized by different times of day (e.g. work time), place, calendar items and so on.

Today, iPhone plays so many roles in our lives. It’s where we get information, how people reach us, and where we get things done. This is great, but it means our attention is being pulled in so many different directions and finding that balance between work and life can be tricky,” said Apple’s Craig Federighi in the WWDC keynote earlier this month. “We want to free up space to focus and help you be in the moment.” How well that gets used, and how much other platforms like Google follow suit, will be interesting to see play out. It feels, in any case, like it could be the start of something.

And, serendipitously — or maybe because this is some kind of zeitgeist — this is also playing into what Memory.ai has built and is building. 

Mathias Mikkelsen, the Oslo-based founder of Memory.ai, first came up with his idea for Timely (which had also been the original name of the whole startup) when he was working as a designer in the ad industry, one of those jobs that needed to track what he was working on, and for how long, in order to get paid.

He said he knew the whole system as it existed was inefficient: “I just thought it was insane how cumbersome and old it was. But at the same time how important it was for the task,” he said.

The guy had an entrepreneurial itch that he was keen to scratch, and this idea would become the salve to help him. Mikkelsen was so taken with building a startup around time management, that he sold his apartment in Oslo and moved himself to San Francisco to be where he believed was the epicenter of startup innovation. He tells me he lived off the proceeds of his flat for two years “in a closet” in a hacker house, bootstrapping Timely, until eventually getting into an accelerator (500 Startups) and subsequently starting to raise money. He eventually moved back to Oslo after two years to continue growing the business, as well as to live somewhere a little more spacious.

The startup’s big technical breakthrough with Timely was to figure out an efficient way of tracking time for different tasks, not just time worked on anything, without people having to go through a lot of data entry.

The solution: to integrate with a person’s computer, plus a basic to-do schedule for a day or week, and then match up which files are open when to determine how long one works for one client or another. Phone or messaging conversations, for the moment, are not included, and neither are the contents of documents — just the titles of them. Nor is data coming from wearable devices, although you could see how that, too, might prove useful.

The basic premise is to be personalised, so managers and others cannot use Timely to track exactly what people are doing, although they can track and bill for those billable hours. All this is important, as it also will feed into how Dewo and Glue will work.

The startup’s big conceptual breakthrough came around the same time: Getting time tracking or any productivity right “has never been a UI problem,” Mikkelsen said. “It’s a human nature problem.” This is where the AI comes in, to nudge people towards something they identify as important, and nudge them away from work that might not contribute to that. Tackling bigger issues beyond time are essential to improving productivity overall, which is why Memory.ai now wants to extend to apps for carving out time for deep thinking and creative thinking.

While it might seem to be a threat that a company like Apple has identified the same time management predicament that Memory.ai has, and is looking to solve that itself, Mikkelsen is not fazed. He said he thinks of Focus as not unlike Apple’s work on Health: there will be ways of feeding information into Apple’s tool to make it work better for the user, and so that will be Memory.ai’s opportunity to hopefully grow, not cannibalize, its own audience with Timely and its two new apps. It is, in a sense, a timely disruption.

“Memory’s proven software is already redefining how businesses around the world track, plan and manage their time. We look forward to working with the team to help new markets profit from the efficiencies, insights and transparency of a Memory-enabled workforce,” said Arild Engh, a partner at Melesio, in a statement.

Kjartan Rist, a partner at Concentric, added: “We continue to be impressed with Memory’s vision to build and launch best-in-class products for the global marketplace. The company is well on its way to becoming a world leader in workplace productivity and collaboration, particularly in light of the remote and hybrid working revolution of the last 12 months. We look forward to supporting Mathias and the team in this exciting new chapter.”

Jun
17
2021
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Nylas, maker of APIs to integrate email and other productivity tools, raises $120M, passes 80K developers

Companies like Stripe and Twilio have put APIs front and center as an effective way to integrate complex functionality that may not be core to your own technology stack but is a necessary part of your wider business. Today, a company that has taken that model to create an effective way to integrate email, calendars and other tools into other apps using APIs is announcing a big round of funding to expand its business.

Nylas, which describes itself as a communications API platform — enabling more automation particularly in business apps by integrating productivity tools through a few lines of code — has raised $120 million in funding, money that it will be using to continue expanding the kinds of APIs that it offers, with a focus in particular not just on productivity apps, but AI and related tools to bring more automation into workflows.

Nylas is not disclosing its valuation, but this is a very significant step up for the company at a time when it is seeing strong traction.

This is more than double what Nylas had raised up to now ($55 million since being founded in 2015), and when it last raised — a $16 million Series B in 2018 — it said it had “thousands of developers” among its users. Now, that number has ballooned to 80,000, with Nylas processing some 1.2 billion API requests each day, working out to 20 terabytes of data, daily. It also said that revenue growth tripled in the last 12 months.

The Series C is bringing a number of interesting names to Nylas’s cap table. New investor Tiger Global Management is leading the round, with previous backers Citi Ventures, Slack Fund, 8VC and Round13 Capital also participating. Other new backers in this round include Owl Rock Capital, a division of Blue Owl; Stripe co-founders Patrick Collison and John Collison; Klarna CEO Sebastian Siemiatkowski; and Tony Fadell.

As with other companies in the so-called API economy, the gap and opportunity that Nylas has identified is that there are a lot of productivity tools that largely exist in their own silos — meaning when a person wants to use them when working in an application, they have to open a separate application to do so. At the same time, building new, say, tools, or building a bridge to integrate an existing application, can be time-consuming and complex.

Nylas first identified this issue with email. An integration to make it easier to use email and the data housed in it — which works with emails from major providers like Microsoft and Google, as well as other services built with the IMAP protocol — in other apps picked up a lot of followers, leading the company to expand into other areas that today include scheduling and calendaring, a neural API to build in tools like sentiment analysis or productivity or workflow automation; and security integrations to streamline the Google OAuth security review process (used for example in an app geared at developers).

“The fundamental shift towards digital communications and connectivity has resulted in companies across all industries increasingly leaning on developers to solve critical business challenges and build unique and engaging products and experiences. As a result, APIs have become core to modern software development and digital transformation,” Gleb Polyakov, co-founder and CEO of Nylas, said in statement.

“Through our suite of powerful APIs, we’re arming developers with the tools and applications needed to meet customer and market needs faster, create competitive differentiation through powerful and customized user experiences, and generate operational ROI through more productive and intelligently automated processes and development cycles. We’re thrilled to continue advancing our mission to make the world more productive and are honored to have the backing of distinguished investors and entrepreneurs.”

Indeed, the rise of Nylas and the function it fulfills is part of a bigger shift we’ve seen in businesses overall: as organizations become more digitized and use more cloud-based apps to get work done, developers have emerged as key mechanics to help that machine run. A bigger emphasis on APIs to integrate services together is part of their much-used toolkit, one of the defining reasons for investors backing Nylas today.

“Companies are rapidly adopting APIs as a way to automate productivity and find new and innovative ways to support modern work and collaboration,” said John Curtius, a partner at Tiger, in a statement. “This trend has become critical to creating frictionless and meaningful data-driven communications that power digital transformation. We believe Nylas is uniquely positioned to lead the future of the API economy.” Curtius is joining the board with this round.

Corrected to note that Blue Owl is not connected to State Farm.

May
17
2021
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Fast growth pushes an unprofitable no-code startup into the public markets: Inside Monday.com’s IPO filing

At long last, the Monday.com crew dropped an F-1 filing to go public in the United States. TechCrunch has long known that the company, which sells corporate productivity and communications software, has scaled north of $100 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR).

The countdown to its IPO filing — an F-1, because the company is based in Israel, rather than the S-1s filed by domestic companies — has been ticking for several quarters, so seeing Monday.com drop the document on this Monday morning was just good fun.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. 

Read it every morning on Extra Crunch or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


The Exchange has been riffling through the document since it came out, and we’ve picked up on a few things to explore. We’ll start by looking at the company’s revenue growth on a historical basis to see if it has accelerated in recent quarters thanks to the pandemic. Then, we’ll turn to profitability, cash burn, share-based compensation expenses and product vision.

We’ll wrap at the end with a summary of what we’ve learned and also make sure to check out the company’s marketing spend, because I’m sure you’ve seen its digital ads.

It’s a lot to chew through, so no more dilly-dallying. Into the numbers!

As always, we’re starting with revenue growth because it’s still the single most important thing about any venture-backed company.

Revenue adds are accelerating

This is great news for the startup, its employees and its investors. From 2019 to 2020, Monday.com grew its revenues from $78.1 million to $161.1 million, or 106%.

From Q1 2020 to Q1 2021, the company’s revenues grew from $31.9 million to $59 million. That’s about 85% growth. So, by what measure do we mean that the company’s revenue growth is accelerating? Its sequential-quarter revenue growth is picking up. Observe the following:

Image Credits: Monday.com F-1 filing

From Q2 2019 to Q3 2019, the company added around $4 million in revenue. From Q2 2020 to Q3 2020, that number was $6.1 million. More recently, the company’s revenue added $7.6 million from Q3 2020 to Q4 2020, which accelerated to $8.8 million from the final quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021. Of course, from an ever-larger base, the company’s growth rate may decline. But the super clean and obvious expanding sequential revenue gains at the company are solid.

The fact that it added so much top line in recent quarters also helps explain why Monday.com is going public now. Sure, the markets are still near record highs and the pandemic is fading, but just look at that consistent growth! It’s investor catnip.

Jan
26
2021
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How Atlanta’s Calendly turned a scheduling nightmare into a $3B startup

One big theme in tech right now is the rise of services to help us keep working through lockdowns, office closures, and other Covid-19 restrictions. The “future of work” — cloud services, communications, productivity apps — has become “the way we work now.” And companies that have identified ways to help with this are seeing a boom.

Today comes news from a startup that has been a part of that trend: Calendly, a popular cloud-based service that people use to set up and confirm meeting times with others, has closed an investment of $350 million from OpenView Venture Partners and Iconiq.

The funding round includes both primary and secondary money (slightly more of the latter than the former, from what I understand) and values the Atlanta-based startup at over $3 billion.

Not bad for a company that before now had raised just $550,000, including the life savings of the founder and CEO, Tope Awotona, to initially get off the ground.

Calendly is a freemium software-as-a-service, built around what is essentially a very simple piece of functionality.

It’s a platform that provides a quick way to manage open spaces in your calendar for people to book appointments with you in those spaces, which then also books out the time in calendars like Google’s or Microsoft Outlook — with a growing number of tools to enhance that experience, including the ability to pay for a service in the event that your appointment is not a business meeting but, say, a yoga class. Pricing ranges from free (one calendar/one user/one event) to premium ($8/month) and pro ($12/month) for more calendars, events, integrations and features, with bigger packages for enterprises also available.

Its growth, meanwhile, has to date been based mostly around a very organic strategy: Calendly invites become links to Calendly itself, so people who use it and like it can (and do) start to use it, too.

The wide range of its use cases, and the virality of that growth strategy, have been winners. Calendly is already profitable, and it has been for years. And more recently, it has seen a boost, specifically in the last twelve months, as new Calendly users have emerged, as a result of how we are living.

We may not be doing more traditional “business meetings” per week, but the number of meetings we now need to set up, has gone up.

All of the serendipitous and impromptu encounters we used to have around an office, or a neighborhood coffee shop, or the park? Those are now scheduled. Teachers and students meeting for a remote lesson? Those also need invitations for online meetings.

And so do sessions with therapists, virtual dinner parties, and even (where they can still happen) in-person meetings, which are often now happening with more timed precision and more record-keeping, to keep social distancing and potential contact tracing in better order.

Currently, some 10 million of us are using Calendly for all of this on a monthly basis, with that number growing 1,180% last year. The army of business users from companies like Twilio, Zoom, and UCSF has been joined by teachers, contractors, entrepreneurs, and freelancers, the company says.

The company last year made about $70 million annually in subscription revenues from its SaaS-based business model and seems confident that its aggregated revenues will not long from now get to $1 billion.

So while the secondary funding is going towards giving liquidity to existing investors and early employees, Awotona said the plan will be to use the primary capital to invest in the company’s business.

That will include building out its platform with more tools and integrations — it started with and still has a substantial R&D operation in Kiev, Ukraine — expanding its operations with more talent (it currently has around 200 employees and plans to double headcount), further business development and more.

Two notable moves on that front are also being announced with the funding: Jeff Diana is coming on as chief people officer with a mission to double the company’s employee base. And Patrick Moran — formerly of Quip and New Relic — is joing as Calendly’s first chief revenue officer. Notably, both are based in San Francisco — not Atlanta.

That focus for building in San Francisco is already a big change for Calendly. The startup, which is going on eight years old, has been somewhat off the radar for years.

That is in part due to the fact that it raised very little money up to now (just $550,000 from a handful of investors that include OpenView, Atlanta Ventures, IncWell and Greenspring Associates).

It’s also based in Atlanta, an increasingly notable city for technology startups and other companies but more often than not short on being credited for its heft in that department (SalesLoft, Amex-acquired Kabbage, OneTrust, Bakkt, and many others are based there, with others like Mailchimp also not too far away).

And perhaps most of all, proactively courting publicity did not appear to be part of Calendly’s growth playbook.

In fact, Calendly might have closed this big round quietly and continued to get on with business, were it not for a short Tweet last autumn that signaled the company raising money and shaping up to be a quiet giant.

“The company’s capital efficiency and what @TopeAwotona has built deserve way more credit than they get,” it read. “Perhaps this will start to change that recognition.”

After that short note on Twitter — flagged on TechCrunch’s internal message board — I made a guess at Awotona’s email, sent a note introducing myself, and waited to see if I would get a reply.

I eventually did get a response, in the form of a short note agreeing to chat, with a Calendly link (naturally) to choose a time.

(Thanks, unnamed TC writer, for never writing about Calendly when Tope originally pitched you years ago: you may have whet his appetite to respond to me.)

In that first chat over Zoom, Awotona was nothing short of wary.

After years of little or no attention, he was getting cold-contacted by me and it seems others, all of us suddenly interested in him and his company.

“It’s been the bane of my life,” he said to me with a laugh about the calls he’s been getting.

Part of me thinks it’s because it can be hard and distracting to balance responding to people, but it’s also because he works hard, and has always worked hard, so doesn’t understand what the new fuss is about.

A lot of those calls have been from would-be investors.

“It’s been exorbitant, the amount of interest Calendly has been getting, from backers of all shapes and sizes,” Blake Bartlett, a partner at OpenView, said to me in an interview.

From what I understand, it’s had inbound interest from a number of strategic tech companies, as well as a long list of financial investors. That process eventually whittled down to just two backers, OpenView and Iconiq.

From Lagos to fixing cash registers

Yet even putting the rumors of the funding to one side, Calendly and Awotona himself have been a remarkable story up to now, one that champions immigrants as well as startup grit.

Tope comes from Lagos, Nigeria, part of a large, middle class household. His mother had been the chief pharmacist for the Nigerian Central Bank, his father worked for Unilever.

The family may have been comfortable, but growing up in Lagos, a city riven by economic disparity and crime, brought its share of tragedies. When he was 12, Awotona’s father was murdered in front of him during a carjacking. The family moved to the U.S. some time after that, and since then his mother has also passed away.

A bright student who actually finished high school at 15, Awotona cut his teeth in the world of business first by studying it — his major at the University of Georgia was management information systems — and then working in it, with jobs after college including periods at IBM and EMC.

But it seems Awotona was also an entrepreneur at heart — if one that initially was not prepared for the steps he needed to take to get something off the ground.

He told me a story about what he describes as his “first foray into business” at age 18, which involved devising and patenting a new feature for cash registers, so that they could use optical character recognition recognize which bills and change were being used for, and dispense the right amount a customer might need in return after paying.

At the time, he was working at a pharmacy while studying and saw how often the change in the cash registers didn’t add up correctly, and his was his idea for how to fix it.

He cold-contacted the leading cash register company at the time, NCR, with his idea. NCR was interested, offering to send him up to Ohio, where it was headquartered then, to pitch the idea to the company directly, and maybe sell the patent in the process. Awotona, however, froze.

“I was blown away,” he said, but also too surprised at how quickly things escalated. He turned down the offer, and ultimately let his patent application lapse. (Computer-vision-based scanning systems and automatic dispensers are, of course, a basic part nowadays of self-checkout systems, for those times when people pay in cash.)

There were several other entrepreneurial attempts, none particularly successful and at times quite frustrating because of the grunt work involved just to speak to people, before his businesses themselves could even be considered.

Eventually, it was the grunt work that then started to catch Awotona’s attention.

“What led me to create a scheduling product” — Awotona said, clear not to describe it as a calendaring service — “was my personal need. At the time wasn’t looking to start a business. I just was trying to schedule a meeting, but it took way too many emails to get it done, and I became frustrated.

“I decided that I was going to look for scheduling products that existed on the market that I could sign up for,” he continued, “but the problem I was facing at the time was I was trying to arrange a meeting with, you know, 10 or 20 people. I was just looking for an easy way for us to easily share our availability and, you know, easily find a time that works for everybody.”

He said he couldn’t really see anything that worked the way he wanted — the products either needed you to commit to a subscription right away (Calendly is freemium) or were geared at specific verticals such as beauty salons. All that eventually led to a recognition, he said, “that there was a big opportunity to solve that problem.”

The building of the startup was partly done with engineers in Kiev — a drama in itself that pivoted at times on the political situation at times in Ukraine (you can read a great unfolding of that story here).

Awotona says that he admired the new guard of cloud-based services like Dropbox and decided that he wanted Calendly to be built using “the Dropbox approach” — something that could be adopted and adapted by different kinds of users and usages.

Simplicity in the frontend, strategy at the backend

On the surface, there is a simplicity to the company’s product: it’s basically about finding a time for two parties to meet. Awotona notes that behind the scenes the scheduling help Calendly provides is the key to what it might develop next.

For example, there are now tools to help people prepare for meetings — specifically features like being able to, say, pay for something that’s been scheduled on Calendly in order to register. A future focus could well be more tools for following up on those meetings, and more ways to help people plan recurring individual or group events.

One area where it seems Calendly does not want to dabble are those meetings themselves — that is, hosting meetings and videoconferencing itself.

“What you don’t want is to start a world war three with Zoom,” Awotona joked. (In addition to becoming the very verb-ified definition of video conferencing, Zoom is also a customer of Calendly’s.)

“We really see ourselves as a leading orchestration platform. What that means is that we really want to remain extensible and flexible. We want our users to bring their own best in class products,” he said. “We think about this in an agnostic way.”

But in a technology world that usually defaults back to the power of platforms, that position is not without its challenges.

“Calendly has a vision increasingly to be a central part of the meeting life cycle. What happens before, during and after the meeting. Historically, the obvious was before the meeting, but now it’s looking at integrations, automations and other things, so that it all magically happens. But moving into the rest of the lifecycle is a lot of opportunity but also many players,” admitted Bartlett, with others including older startups like X.ai and Doodle (owned by Swiss-based Tamedia) or newer entrants like Undock but also biggies like Google and Microsoft.

“It will be an interesting task to see where there are opportunities to partner or build or buy to build out its competitive position.”

You’ll notice that throughout this story I didn’t refer to Awotona’s position as a black founder — still very much a rarity among startups, and especially those valued at over $1 billion.

That is partly because in my conversations with him, it emerged that he saw it as just another detail. Still, it is one that is brought up a lot, he said, and so he understands it is important for others.

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about being black or not black,” he said. “It doesn’t change how I approach or built Calendly. I’m not incredibly conscious of my race or color, except for the last few years through he growth of Calendly. I find that more people approach me as a black tech founder, and that there is young black people who are inspired by the story.”

That is something he hopes to build on in the near future, including in his home country.

Pending pandemic chaos, he has plans to try to visit Nigeria later this year and to get more involved in the ecosystem in that country, I’m guessing as a mentor if not more.

“I just know the country that produced me,” he said. “There are a million Topes in Nigeria. The difference for me was my parents. But I’m not a diamond in the rough, and I want to get involved in some way to help with that full potential.”

Jul
11
2019
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Swit, a collaboration suite that offers ‘freedom from integrations,’ raises $6 million in seed funding

A marketplace dominated by Slack and Microsoft Teams, along with a host of other smaller workplace communication apps, might seem to leave little room for a new entrant, but Swit wants to prove that wrong. The app combines messaging with a roster of productivity tools, like task management, calendars and Gantt charts, to give teams “freedom from integrations.” Originally founded in Seoul and now based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Swit announced today that it has raised a $6 million seed round led by Korea Investment Partners, with participation from Hyundai Venture Investment Corporation and Mirae Asset Venture Investment.

Along with an investment from Kakao Ventures last year, this brings Swit’s total seed funding to about $7 million. Swit’s desktop and mobile apps were released in March and since then more than 450 companies have adopted it, with 40,000 individual registered users. The startup was launched last year by CEO Josh Lee and Max Lim, who previously co-founded auction.co.kr, a Korean e-commerce site acquired by eBay in 2001.

While Slack, which recently went public, has become so synonymous with the space that “Slack me” is now part of workplace parlance at many companies, Lee says Swit isn’t playing catch-up. Instead, he believes Swit benefits from “last mover advantage,” solving the shortfalls of other workplace messaging, collaboration and productivity apps by integrating many of their functions into one hub.

“We know the market is heavily saturated with great unicorns, but many companies need multiple collaboration apps and there is nothing that seamlessly combines them, so users don’t have to go back and forth between two platforms,” Lee tells TechCrunch. Many employees rely on Slack or Microsoft Teams to chat with one another, on top of several project management apps, like Asana, Jira, Monday and Confluence, and email to communicate with people at other companies (Lee points to a M.io report that found most businesses use at least two messaging apps and four to seven collaboration tools).

Lee says he used Slack for more than five years and during that time, his teammates added integrations from Asana, Monday, GSuite and Office365, but were unsatisfied with how they worked.

“All we could do with the integrations was receive mostly text-based notifications and there were also too many overlapping features,” he says. “We realized that working with multiple environments reduced team productivity and increased communication overhead.” In very large organizations, teams or departments sometimes use different messaging and collaboration apps, creating yet more friction.

Swit’s goal is to cover all those needs in one app. It comes with integrated Kanban task management, calendars and Gantt charts, and at the end of this year about 20 to 30 bots and apps will be available in its marketplace. Swit’s pricing tier currently has free and standard tiers, with a premium tier for enterprise customers planned for fall. The premium version will have full integration with Office365 and GSuite, allowing users to drag-and-drop emails into panels or convert them into trackable tasks.

While being a late-mover gives Swit certain advantages, it also means it must convince users to switch from their current apps, which is always a challenge when it comes to attracting enterprise clients. But Lee is optimistic. After seeing a demo, he says 91% of potential users registered on Swit, with more than 75% continuing to use it every day. Many of them used Asana or Monday before, but switched to Swit because they wanted to more easily communicate with teammates while planning tasks. Some are also gradually transitioning over from Slack to Swit for all their messaging (Swit recently released a Slack migration tool that enables teams to move over channels, workspaces and attachments. Migration tools for Asana, Trello and Jira are also planned).

In addition to “freedom from integrations,” Lee says Swit’s competitive advantages include being developed from the start for small businesses as well as large enterprises that still frequently rely on email to communicate across different departments or locations. Another differentiator is that all of Swit’s functions work on both desktop and mobile, which not all integrations in other collaboration apps can.

“That means if people integrate multiple apps into a desktop app or web browser, they might not be able to use them on mobile. So if they are looking for data, they have to search app by app, channel by channel, product by product, so data and information is scattered everywhere, hair on fire,” Lee says. “We provide one centralized command center for team collaboration without losing context and that is one of our biggest sources of customer satisfaction.”

Jun
20
2019
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Slack opens at $38.50, a pop of 48% on its first day of trading on NYSE as WORK

Slack, the workplace messaging platform that has helped define a key category of enterprise IT, made its debut as a public company today with a pop. Trading as “WORK” on the New York Stock Exchange, it opened at $38.50 after setting a reference price last night of $26, valuing it at $15.7 billion, and then setting a bid/asking price of $37 this morning.

The trading climbed up quickly in its opening minutes and went as high as $42 and is now down to $38.95. We’ll continue to update this as the day goes on. These prices are pushing the market cap to around $20 billion.

Note: There was no “money raised” with this IPO ahead of today because Slack’s move into being a publicly traded company is coming by way of a direct listing — meaning the shares went directly on the market with no pre-sale. This is a less-conventional route that doesn’t involve bankers underwriting the listing (nor all the costs that come along with the roadshow and the rest). It also means Slack does not raise a large sum ahead of public trading. But it does let existing shareholders trade shares without dilution and is an efficient way of going public if you’re not in need of an immediate, large cash injection. It’s a route that Spotify also took when it went public last year, and, from the front-page article on NYSE.com, it seems that there might be growing interest in this process — or at least, that the NYSE would like to promote it as an option.

Slack’s decision to go slightly off-script is in keeping with some of the ethos that it has cultivated over the last several years as one of the undisputed juggernauts of the tech world. Its rocket ship has been a product that has touched on not one but three different hot growth areas: enterprise software-as-a-service, messaging apps and platform plays that, by way of APIs, can become the touchstone and nerve center for a seemingly limitless number of other services.

What’s interesting about Slack is that — contrary to how some might think of tech — the journey here didn’t start as rocket science.

Slack was nearly an accidental creation, a byproduct that came out of how a previous business, Tiny Speck, was able to keep its geographically spread-out team communicating while building its product, the game Glitch. Glitch and Tiny Speck failed to gain traction, so after they got shut down, the ever-resourceful co-founder Stewart Butterfield did what many founders who still have some money in the bank and fire in their bellies do: a pivot. He took the basic channel they were using and built it (with some help) into the earliest public version of what came to be known as Slack.

But from that unlikely start something almost surprising happened: the right mix of ease of use, efficient responsiveness and functionality — in aid of those already important areas of workplace communication, messaging and app integration — made Slack into a huge hit. Quickly, Slack became the fastest-growing piece of enterprise software ever in terms of adding users, with a rapid succession of funding rounds (raising over $1.2 billion in total), valuation hikes and multiple product improvements along the way to help it grow.

Today, like many a software-as-a-service business that is less than 10 years old and investing returns to keep up with its fast-growing business, Slack is not profitable.

In the fiscal year that ended January 31, 2019, it reported revenues in its S-1 of $400.6 million, but with a net loss of $138.9 million. That was a slight improvement on its net loss from the previous fiscal year of $140.1 million, with a big jump on revenue, which was $220.5 million.

But its growth and the buzz it has amassed has given it a big push. As of January 31, it clocked up over 10 million daily active users across 600,000 organizations, with 88,000 of them on paid plans and 550,000 using the free version of the app. It will be interesting to see how and if that goodwill and excitement outweighs some of those financial bum notes.

Or, in some cases, possibly other bum notes. The company has made “Work” not just its ticker but its mantra. Its slogan is “Where work happens” and it focuses on how its platform helps make people more productive. But as you might expect, not everyone feels that way about it, with the endless streams of notifications, the slightly clumsy way of handling threaded conversations and certain other distracting features raising the ire of some people. (Google “Slack is a distraction” and you can see some examples of those dissenting opinions.)

Slack has had its suitors over the years, unsurprisingly, and at least one of them has in the interim made a product to compete with it. Teams, from Microsoft, is one of the many rival platforms on the market looking to capitalise on the surge of interest for chat and collaboration platforms that Slack has helped usher in. Other competitors include Workplace from Facebook, Mattermost and Flock, along with Threads and more.

Feb
14
2019
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Zoho’s office suite gets smarter

As far as big tech companies go, Zoho is a bit different. Not only has it never taken any venture funding, it also offers more than 40 products that range from its online office suite to CRM and HR tools, email, workflow automation services, video conferencing, a bug tracker and everything in-between. You don’t often hear about it, but the company has more than 45 million users worldwide and offices in the U.S., Netherlands, Singapore, Dubai, Yokohama and Beijing — and it owns its data centers, too.

Today, Zoho is launching a major update to its core office suite products: Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show and Notebooks. These tools are getting an infusion of AI — under Zoho’s “Zia” brand — as well as new AppleTV and Android integrations and more. All of the tools are getting some kind of AI-based feature or another, but they are also getting support for Zia Voice, Zoho’s conversational AI assistant.

With this, you can now ask questions about data in your spreadsheets, for example, and Zia will create charts and even pivot tables for you. Similarly, Zoho is using Zia in its document editor and presentation tools to provide better grammar and spellchecking tools (and it’ll now offer a readability score and tips for improving your text). In Zoho Notebook, the note-taking application that is also the company’s newest app, Zia can help users create different formats for their note cards based on the content (text, photo, audio, checklist, sketch, etc.).

“We want to make AI helpful in a very contextual manner for a specific application,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, told me. “Because we do AI across the board, we learned a lot and were are able to apply learnings on one technology and one piece of context and apply that to another.” Zoho first brought Zia to its business intelligence app, for example, and now it’s essentially bringing the same capabilities to its spreadsheet app, too.

It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft are doing similar things with their productivity apps, too, of course. Zoho, however, argues that it offers a far wider range of applications — and its stated mission is that you should be able to run your entire business on its platform. And the plan is to bring some form of AI to all of them. “Fast-forward a few months and [our AI grammar and spellchecker] is applied to the business application context — maybe a support agent responding to a customer ticket can use this technology to make sure there are no typos in those responses,” Vegesna said.

There are plenty of other updates in this release, too. Zoho Show now works with AppleTV-enabled devices for example, and Android users can now use their phones as a smart remote for Show. Zoho Sheet now lets you build custom functions and scripts and Zoho Writer’s web, mobile and iPad versions can now work completely offline.

The broader context here, though, is that Zoho, with its ridiculously broad product portfolio, is playing a long game. The company has no interest in going public. But it also knows that it’s going up against companies like Google and Microsoft. “Vertical integration is not something that you see in our industry,” said Vegesna. “Companies are in that quick mode of getting traction, sell or go public. We are looking at it in the 10 to 20-year time frame. To really win that game, you need to make these serious investments in the market. The improvements you are seeing here are at the surface level. But we don’t see ourselves as a software company. We see ourselves as a technology company.” And to build up these capabilities, Vegesna said, Zoho has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its own data centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, for example.

Dec
17
2018
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Google will make it easier for people without accounts to collaborate on G Suite documents

Soon it will be easier for people without Google accounts to collaborate on G Suite documents. Currently in beta, a new feature will enable G Suite users to invite people without G Suite subscriptions or Google accounts to work on files by sending them a pin code.

Using the pin code to gain access allows invitees to view, comment on, suggest edits to or directly edit Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. The owners and admins of the G Suite files monitor usage through activity logs and can revoke access at any time. According to the feature’s support article, admins are able to set permissions by department or domain. They also can restrict sharing outside of white-listed G Suite domains or their own organization.

In order to sign up for the beta program, companies need to fill in this form and select a non-G Suite domain they plan to collaborate with frequently.

According to a Reuters article published in February, since intensifying their focus on enterprise customers, Google has doubled the number of organizations with a G Suite subscription to more than 4 million. But despite Google’s efforts to build its enterprise user base, G Suite hasn’t come close to supplanting Office 365 as the cloud-based productivity software of choice for companies.

Office 365 made $13.8 billion in sales in 2016, versus just $1.3 billion for G Suite, according to Gartner. Google has added features to G Suite, however, to make the two competing software suites more interoperable, including an update that enables Google Drive users to comment on Office files, PDFs and images in the Drive preview panel without needing to convert them to Google Docs, Sheets or Slide files first, even if they don’t have Microsoft Office or Acrobat Reader. Before that, Google also released a Drive plugin for Outlook.

This may not convince Microsoft customers to switch, especially if they have been using its software for decades, but at least it will get more workers comfortable with Google’s alternatives, and may convince some companies to subscribe to G Suite for at least some employees or departments.

Nov
01
2018
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Asana launches $19.99 Business tier to help managers handle multiple projects

Asana, the platform where people can create and track the progress of work projects, made its name originally as a place where individuals and smaller teams can create and track the progress of a specific project. Now, as the startup courts bigger organizations among its 50,000 paying organizations and millions of (paying and free) users globally, it is adding another tier for enterprises that are using Asana for multiple projects: Asana Business, priced at $19.95 per user, per month.

Aimed primarily at teams that have managers or executives overseeing multiple projects simultaneously — sometimes in the thousands for a single organization — the idea is that Business will have extra features to help designated people handle and triage that workload more effectively.

Asana co-founder and CEO Dustin Moskovitz

“Our role is to help leaders understand where their attention can be most useful and what to be focused on,” Dustin Moskovitz, pictured, the co-founder and CEO of Asana, said to me in an interview recently.

That focus on executives and managers is one part of the company’s bigger vision of where it sees its own place in the range of productivity tools that a business might use, alongside other areas like efficient storage (à la Dropbox, Box or another cloud-based service) or communication (e.g. Slack, Workplace, Teams, etc.).

Asana is also not alone in its category; other alternatives include Airtable, Write, Trello and Basecamp, another reason the company is on the path to continue innovating and finding ways to make its service more sticky.

The new Asana Business tier includes a couple of specific new tools that will differentiate it from Teams (Asana’s $9.99/user/month tier for groups of more than five) and Enterprise (the tier that you need to speak to an account manager to determine pricing). In all cases, the pricing is based on buying an annual subscription: prices are higher if you pay by the month.

The first, Portfolio, will give a manager a way of viewing what everyone in an organization is working on in Asana — a “mission control” that provides a single view of what is going on, which can be useful for figuring out more big-picture progress or to oversee a larger project that has multiple streams of work within it.

Alongside that, it’s also soon going to launch another feature in Business called Workloads, which will let managers then assign people to projects or redeploy them, based on what they are seeing progress through the Portfolios tool.

The two features, Asana hopes, will mean that organizations will not only get better insights into their current projects on the platform, but might be enticed to buy into using it for more of them. Alex Hood, the company’s head of product (who joined a year ago after many years at Intuit), noted that it’s something that companies had already been trying to address themselves to some degree. “We’ve seen customers hack solutions together,” he said. So, it seemed like time to make it into a more formal tool, Hood said.

The company’s move to add another tier to generate more revenue comes on the heels of Asana raising $75 million on a $900 million valuation earlier this year — money that Moskovitz told TechCrunch is still largely in the bank.

“We’re not yet profitable, but we’re rapidly approaching it,” he said, describing Asana to me as a “high-volume SaaS business, very efficient and very successful.” The company is not in sight of an IPO, he added, but it seems that it is just getting started on what more it might add to the platform to make it more sticky and useful to the average business user. 

Key on that roadmap, Hood said, is the use of more machine learning and other artificial intelligence tools in the creation of new features — something that the company first introduced through Timeline, introduced in March, which knits together different project threads to start creating a bigger overview of what is going on.

One new feature that Asana is working on is a way to highlight when projects might not be going to plan, or that there are areas that have yet to be addressed — and then suggest ways of helping to fix things through the redeployment of people.

Another area that Asana is exploring is how to use AI to match people better to projects. Hood said that it’s now working on a system that might be able to suggest where an employee or team member might get assigned — for example, using the profile of a person that invited you into a team as an indicator of where you might be working.

Mar
06
2018
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Worklytics wants to cut down on lame meetings and help make teams more efficient

 If you’ve ever been stuck in a boring meeting, chances are you might spend the time busy answering messages from email or Slack — or even just browsing around the Internet while you wait for it to finally end. And there are a lot of factors that go into making that meeting boring, from the content to the person actually delivering it. Phillip Arkcoll knows that problem quite well,… Read More

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